William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism
- List Price: $34.95
- Binding: Hardcover
- Publisher: Univ of Illinois Pr
- Publish date: 02/01/2000
- ISBN: 9780252020469
- ISBN10: 0252020464
A self-educated wage earner raised in the slums of a large industrial city, William Z. Foster was one of the "militant minority" who came of age amid the upheaval of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Embracing socialism, syndicalism, and communism in turn, Foster established himself as a brilliant organizer and strike leader who helped build the American Federation of Labor and, later, the radical Trade Union Educational League. He remained at the forefront of labor politics throughout the 1920s, even as he directed Communist Party industrial policy. Yet by the time he died in 1961, in a Moscow hospital far from the meat-packing plants and steel mills where he had made his reputation, his political marginalism symbolized the isolation of American labor radicalism in the postwar era.
In accounting for the failure of Foster's politics, and by extension the failure of American communism, Barrett shows how Foster's own instincts were frequently countermanded and distorted by the exigencies of international Communist politics. As he became increasingly preoccupied with the ideological twists and turns of the Communist International, Foster drifted ever farther from the mainstream of American working-class life. His life came to exemplify the constant tension between two dimensions of American communism: communism as a genuine effort to redress social inequalities and communism as the product of Comintern directives, Soviet policy initiatives, and Soviet Party politics.
William Z. Foster and the Tragedyof American Radicalism incorporates the indigenous and the international factors that determined the fate of American communism. By tracing the evolution of Foster's experiences and ideology and assaying the quality of his political commitment as a worker and organizer in the American West and Midwest, Barrett provides an indispensable foundation for understanding the basis for radicalism among twentieth-century American workers.